How To Drive When Testing

Posted on January 1, 2016

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How To Drive When Testing

Set-up

By: Rob Oakman

The beautiful Ford GT testing at Daytona. (Courtesy of Ford)

Joey Hand testing the beautiful Ford GT at Daytona. (Courtesy of Ford Racing)

Happy 2016! Testing time is nearly here. I have already covered how to get the most out of testing in a general sense, but how can the driver help the most? Whether testing parts, set-up, or lines on track, you need to get as much useful information from your testing time as possible. To do that, you need to approach your driving differently than a race. Let’s start with testing set-up.

Don’t use driving tricks

From the moment you first enter the track it’s instinct to start trail-braking, adjust the brake-bias, change turn-in, apex, exit, etc. to try and get more out of your chassis the way it is. But the whole point of testing is to create the best base set-up you can. Trail-braking, bias, and all of those other tricks are adjustments a driver makes to fix a problem on track that you didn’t have time to fix in the pits. Testing gives you that time.

Start with your brake bias neutral, or at least at a fixed baseline. Use the textbook racing corner — brake in a straight line, roll into the apex and accelerate out from there. Do this until you are well into your day. What you will find is that as you narrow into a better and better set-up, that you need those tricks less and less.

Now, all corners on track are different, so your set-up is a bit of a compromise to maximise performance across all of them. This means that you won’t handle quite as well is some corners as you do the rest. Only after you have a good overall set-up do you start compensating for the corners that are not working quite as well as the others.

*Special Note: Your personal racing style is something many of us like to use as an excuse to drive a certain way (ie: I like a loose car, tight car, neutral car, fast turn-in, etc…). Always remember that you need to drive whatever way is the fastest in the conditions you are faced with. Loose, tight, whatever is working on the stopwatch is what you drive with. By testing with a textbook driving style and making adjustments based solely on time, you may find that what you liked isn’t actually what is fastest.

Be Consistent

You need to use the same basic line the entire set-up testing session. But, here’s the thing — as you make changes, the braking points, turn-in, accelerations point etc… will change. This may seem contradictory — that you need to keep a consistent line while your chassis changes make you change lines, but it isn’t. What I am saying is that you don’t want to be searching the track for new lines to find more speed that way. Don’t start running a lane wider than the last run. You basic line and apex should stay consistent. Save finding lines on track for when you are testing for the best lines. That may happen the same day, or even the same session, but focus on one thing at a time for each run.

Bruno Spengler keeping it straight in the BMW M6 GTLM. (Courtesy of bmwblog.com)

Bruno Spengler keeping it straight in the BMW M6 GTLM. (Courtesy of bmwblog.com)

Fix the first problem First

As you push your chassis to its limits around track it is going to start showing weaknesses that you can work on in the pits. It is easy to want to fix the most pronounced problems first, but that isn’t the best approach. If you have a slight push on entry and a very big loose condition at exit, fix the push first. Even though it seems like a lesser problem, it is probably what is causing the loose on exit, so you need to let your crew know about the slight push first.

Everything has a cause and effect. If you can find the cause and fix it, everything that came after disappears.

Communicate

Communication is absolutely key to success. Tell your crew exactly what is happening and do it in the order it is happening. If you make a big deal about the loose condition mentioned above and then gloss over the push, your crew may miss it.

Be clear

Again, communication is absolutely key to success. If you talk in oversteer/understeer, but your crew talks in push/loose, you already have a problem. It may seem like it isn’t a big deal, but it can result in mistakes during a race. Even the order that you explain the problems with the chassis matters.

  • Pick terms that everyone understands and use them all of the time
  • When explaining issues, start in the order that they happen (first problem first)
  • When talking changes/adjustments, start at the front of the chassis and work backwards or
  • When talking changes/adjustments, start with suspension, then aero, then gearing, then engine (The order can be modified of course, but this kind of consistency makes a massive difference in eliminating mistakes and helping organize the work). By organizing the way you explain fixes you help the crew keep track of what has been done.
The talented Kyle Marcelli relaxing between testing runs (Courtesy of sportscarillustrated.com)

The talented Kyle Marcelli relaxing between testing runs (Courtesy of sportscarillustrated.com)

Change one thing at a time

Drivers have a lot more pull than they often think. If you make a bunch of calls the crew may just listen to you, so don’t ask for a bunch of changes all at once. How would you know if the push you mentioned could have been fixed by the tire pressure adjustment you made, or just the torsion-bar you added, maybe the spacer in the front wheels, or possibly the extra rebound you put into the front shocks? If you do them all at once, you don’t know. If you throw a bunch of changes at the chassis then you will never know if any one of them would have worked on their own. Worse still, often one change is cancelled out by the other one.

This also means that if your crew tends to throw the whole toolbox at problems, then you need to get them to slow down. Make it clear you want one change at a time and discuss what change you both think is best.

Attitude — Don’t get Bored/Angry/Impatient

I’m not being funny here — boredom leads to mistakes. Often bored drivers miss obvious issues. Some of them get angry and start abusing the crew or the car. Even just rolling your eyes or sighing when someone asks you to try one more thing effects moral in a crew.

Testing should be fun. You are being asked to push the car to the limit without the pressures of having to get a good finish. It is still work, sure, but what a great day of work it is!

No matter what you are testing keep in mind that you, the driver, makes a massive difference on the success or failure of the day. Keep focused, your lines clean, your driving consistent, your communication clear, and keep a good attitude for yourself and the crew. Everything you learn is going to help you. Especially if what you learn is what not to do.

Next article I will tackle how to drive when testing lines on track. Remember to have fun out there and thanks for reading.
Subscribe for new articles and follow on twitter at @oakmanonracing. If you have any questions or comments about this topic, or anything else, feel free to ask.

 

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Posted in: How to Race